The federal government says it’s “actively looking” at options to address a loophole in the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit that could see returning travellers receive up to $1,000 for missing work due to quarantine requirements.
“The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit was never intended to incentivize or encourage Canadians to not follow public health or international travel guidelines. We continue to strongly urge all Canadians to avoid non-essential travel,” Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough said in a media statement Saturday.
“The purpose of the CRSB has always been to provide workers with a paid sick leave option where one might not be available through their employer, so that workers did not have to choose between going to work and putting food on the table.”
Residents of Canada can apply for the benefit if they’re unable to work for at least half of their scheduled work week because they have tested positive for COVID-19 or are isolating due to the virus. Applicants are not eligible for the CRSB if they have already received paid leave for their absence.
Those who meet that criteria and several other requirements are eligible for $500 per week — or $450 after taxes are withheld — for a maximum of two weeks.
The government has approved more than 450,000 applications for the CRSB since its September launch.
Opposition parties criticize criteria
The benefit is now under fire from critics who say pandemic aid could flow to Canadians completing their mandatory 14-day quarantine after returning from personal vacations and other non-essential travel.
After the loophole was first reported by La Presse, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called on the Liberal government to immediately clarify who is eligible for the funds.
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves‑François Blanchet and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval have said the criteria amounts to the government rewarding travellers for flouting public health guidelines by leaving the country.
The NDP’s Jagmeet Singh told CBC News in a statement that Canadians are “rightly upset” that people who can afford to go on vacation could receive the benefit to stay at home.
“Unless the government bans non-essential international travel, people will continue to leave. We need to make sure that they have all the tools to stay home when they come back,” said Singh, whose party prioritized securing paid sick leave during the pandemic.
“It’s much worse, from a public health perspective if people come home, are not able to access support and then go to work, potentially spreading the virus to their coworkers or the public because they can’t afford to quarantine.”